Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum)

20190528_172210No self-respecting Greek will return home from Greece without a large stash of dried Greek Oregano in their luggage.  Try explaining that one to a customs officer.

20190528_172108(All links open a new page, so you won’t lose your spot when you look around!  Get information on gardening and cultural traditions, recipes, stories, and more!)

*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*

20190528_172159So what if you don’t get to go to Greece on any kind of a regular basis to get your next supply?  Why, you grown your own, of course.  It’s one of those plants that basically grows itself and you just get to sit back and harvest it when needed.

Greek Oregano is not commonly found here in the U.S. in grocery stores, but thankfully finding seeds or plants at garden centers is pretty easy.  It is the classic seasoning used in so many Greek recipes and is what gives traditional Greek Souvlaki its signature flavor.

20190528_172139Greek Oregano grows much like it’s mint relatives as it tends to spread, but unlike mint it is far easier to keep under control.  Greek Oregano grows well in pots, too, if you want to keep it better contained.  During the late spring and early summer, more of it’s growth will be upward as the plant forms flower stalks that reach about two feet high.  The flowers form in clusters at the tips of the stalks and are white in color.  Bees will absolutely mob them, so this is a good plant to help attract them to your yard.

Plants can be easily started from seed, but make sure that you are getting labeled seed otherwise you may be planting a hybrid that won’t have true Greek Oregano flavor.  You can also easily propagate plants from cuttings by sticking the stems into moist potting soil.  The plants prefer full sun, but can tolerate some morning or afternoon sun in hot climates.  They are low water users and actually won’t grow well if over watered, so allow the soil to dry somewhat in between watering.

20190528_172235Greek Oregano can tolerate some degree of freezing temperatures, but will need protection in zones 5-7, and may be best grown in pots that can then be brought indoors in the winter.  In warmer zones, it will overwinter well, but may die back a little above ground if there are regular frosts.  As far as pests are concerned, your two biggest concerns will be aphids and spider mites.  If your plants are growing in healthy conditions, they will be able to withstand these pests.  A blast of water from a hose will also help dislodge them from the plant.

The best time to harvest Greek Oregano is when the flower stalks begin to form, but before the flowers open.  This is when the flavor compounds are at their highest concentration.  Traditionally the flower stalks are the ones harvested by cutting the stalk at the base and drying the whole stem (gently rinse them off first).  Then the leaves and flower heads are then removed from the stem and crushed into small pieces to sprinkle over whatever food it is used on (type Greek Oregano in the search bar on this page to find several recipes using it).  It is best to harvest in the morning while temperatures are cool, making sure the plant has been recently watered and is not wilted in any way.

20190615_224717
I like to use clean muslin towels to dry the oregano as they won’t stick as much as paper towels.

Plant Summary:

  • Perennial: May need to be grown as an annual in colder zones
  • Height: about 2-3 feet when flowering
  • Width: will continuously spread if not contained, but easily pulled out
  • Sun: full sun, but can tolerate some morning or afternoon shade in hot areas
  • Water: drought tolerant, but don’t let the soil get too dry
  • Soil pH: neutral to slightly acidic
  • Soil type: amend heavy clay or loose sandy soil
  • Key nutrients: fertilize with a balanced blend, but not necessary unless soil is very poor
  • Planting time: best to start in spring
  • Zones: 5+20190528_172315

 

 

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8 Comments

  1. I remember stems of this drying in the neighbor’s garage. We stripped the dried leaves of the the stems and jarred them. I could never pronounce ‘oregano’ in Greek. An Italian type of oregano naturalized at work, which would not be bad if it were not so weedy. When it was in the garden, we used the leaves on the stalks as well as those that were on the ground, but for different flavors.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I still can not pronounce that. silly word anyway. Greek oregano will be fine.
        Is the basal foliage used fresh, or is it always taken from the floral stems? I could not tell that the flavor was different, at least while fresh. Perhaps we used the basal leaves fresh to avoid using the floral stem foliage that was intended for drying. I did not use much fresh.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve never noticed any real difference, except that the flavor in the flower stalks was a little stronger. I use both but I try to gather more of the flowering stems. I prefer the dried leaves because of the concentrated flavor.

        Liked by 1 person

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